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How to retain top talent

From eradicating boredom to eliminating bad bosses, getting good people to stay at work requires a proactive strategy.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 7, 2023
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Exit interviews are just a standard practice at Enterprise Florida, where Matt Swanson, senior vice president of administration, works. 

Yet instead of just conducting the interview and moving on to fill the role, Swanson says action is being taken. 

“We had a trend where a few employees left and they cited health insurance,” he says. “So we did a deep dive into what was going on, working with our broker, and have some great things coming down the pipeline to improve our benefits package during our next enrollment period.” 

Swanson was one of three panelists for the The Edison Awards' Virtual Roundtable on how to attract and retain top talent, held in late January. The Edison Awards is an annual, worldwide competition honoring innovation, held in Fort Myers in April.

In addition to benefits, another reason people were leaving? Boredom. 

“We found it had to do with internal operations and wanting to do more work on the business rather than just in the business,” he says. Now, Enterprise Florida, a public–private partnership connecting government officials with businesses statewide, is taking strides to include employees in more participation through side projects by creating its own version of the technology’s industry “hackathon,” a collaborative event that takes place over 24-48 hours. 

Matt Swanson says exit interviews are the standard at Enterprise Florida.
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“We present a problem and ask employees to work in teams to come up with a solution,” he says. “We’ve seen that help with employee engagement.”  

Like Swanson, Melissa Severance, founder of human resources consultancy firm Inspire Big Dreams in Naples, says the first step to improving retention is understanding why employees leave. A fellow panelist Severance checks off the well-known issues that come from having to replace people— turnover expenses, loss of knowledge and a reduction of productivity and more. 

“That’s why when exit interviews come into play, they’re very important,” Severance says, adding employers should also speak with longtime employees to figure out why they’ve stuck around.

Panelist Karen Shepherd, founder and CEO of Naples-based HR by Karen, says it's up to employers to create a culture where employees feel welcome. 

Karen Shepherd says employers have to create an inviting atmosphere at work.
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“If an employee doesn’t feel valued or understood, they’re going to 'peace out,'” Shepherd says. “When I recruit for clients, I can recruit the best talent. But it’s their job to have the best employee experience.”

Last year, Shepherd set a strategic goal to develop a wellness program for her employees. She budgeted for a monthly team morale building event. 

“People got really excited when we sent an invitation to all meet at PopStroke for a couple of hours after work,” she says. 

Flexibility is another helpful tool. If an employer can’t offer flexibility in terms of remote work or a hybrid schedule, it’s important to offer flexibility in other ways. 

Melissa Severance says figuring out why employees leave is the first step.
Courtesy photo

Enterprise Florida, for example, has started incorporating lunch-and-learns for employees to step away from their desks from time to time. 

“We’re really focusing on getting away from the traditional nine to five where everyone has to be at their desks (structure),” Swanson says. “Life outside of work is more important than work, and we’re trying to drive that home with our employees.” 

But also building a strong leadership team is important. 

“Most people leave their management, not the company,” Severance says. "So we need to make sure those leaders are strong and really exhibit the culture that we want within the firm.” 


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